Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Great Texas Birding Classic: Day 4

I would say we got up on day 4 bright and early, but a better description would just be early. I was still feeling the tiredness from the day before, but headed out the door before dawn to get to Boykin Springs National Forest before our target birds were up and at 'em. Boykin Springs is the home of an endangered woodpecker, the Red-cockaded. This is a bird that has an extremely limited range, depending on mature pine trees with decayed heart wood. It is found only in a few south-eastern states. They are difficult to find during the day, as they range throughout the forest feeding, never staying in one spot for long. The best way to see them is to watch a nest tree at dawn, when they leave for the day.

We got to the spot in the dark and noticed a minivan parked up the road. We suspected it was our nemesis team. We hurried up the path through the woods to the grove that Tony had scouted the week before. Bachman Sparrows were just starting to tune up, so we scored another of our target species. I even found one perched up on a snag, barely visible in the pre-dawn dimness. Just as it started to get light another birder, a young guy from Colorado, came up the path. We discovered it was his minivan that we had seen, not the dreaded Butcher Birds. Just as he arrived we heard a Red-cockade call. We searched the nest holes and saw a bird emerge. Soon he was joined by several others.

We heard another group of birders approaching. Luckily it was not the BBs, but a team from Texas A&M, who were scouting for the next day's one day event. We pointed out the Red-cockaded and shared sites for other birds. It was great to see college students with so much enthusiasm for birds. A Brown-headed Nuthatch called, completing the trifecta of expected species, so we left to cruise for other birds.

We drove through the National Forest listening for other eastern Texas specialties. We heard a Yellow-throated Warbler, then a Yellow-throated Vireo. Swainson's Warblers were singing in many locations. We had found a Louisiana Waterthrush in Corpus, so we didn't have to worry about that one. Tony had a spot for Prairie Warbler scouted out, so we headed there. A light rain was falling and the birds were really still. We got out of the car to walk a bit and I spotted one perched on top of a small scrubby pine. Then Lynn found a bird we didn't expect to get, an Eastern Towhee. Things were going better than well!

Martin Dies State Park was our next stop, where we were looking for one of my favorite birds, Swallow-tailed Kite. We walked out on a boardwalk overlooking the lake. A Wood Duck flew past, giving us a bird that is usually difficult to find in the Classic area. Then Lynn spotted a Kite coming up out of the trees across the lake. We were ahead of schedule and feeling pretty good. Its amazing how the adrenalin can make you forget just how tired you are!

It was time to head south to pick up migrants and shorebirds that we still needed. We made a quick stop in Beaumont's Tyrell Park for Fish Crow, with no luck. This was rather a shock, as they are "always there". With visions of our experience with the Brewer's Blackbird in our heads, we were a little nervous. I had a back up spot in Humble, just east of Houston for the crows, but we didn't have time to go for them. We decided we could alter the route on day 5 to include that spot, if necessary.

Sabine Woods, a Texas Ornithogical Society refuge, was our next destination. This 30 acre wood is near the border of Louisiana, across a field of cat-tails from the Gulf of Mexico. Its probably the best migrant trap on the upper Texas coast, even out shining High Island. We moved quickly through, picking up warblers and other migrants. Tony found a Brown Thrasher, which was a bird we were worried about getting.

We then shot down to Anuahac NWR refuge, David's stomping ground. David is deeply involved in their volunteer program and knows the refuge like the back of his hand. We were hoping for Swamp Sparrow and he swore he knew where a Barn Owl was. Unfortunately the sparrow he had staked out the Saturday before seemed to have flown the coop. We went into a good area of woods where there is always a Barn Owl. Sure enough, there was, but only David saw it as it flushed. We came out of the woods and looked and looked, but we had no luck. To be counted the bird has to be seen by at least 2 people, so it was useless for the competition. One of the refuge workers gave us a tip about a nesting Barn Owl in a barn (imagine that!) on the refuge, so we headed over there. There was no sign of it when we went into the barn. I had seen a Barn Owl in the Smith Oaks pump house at High Island the week before, so I wasn't worried.

We proceeded to High Island to check the boards for birds seen that day. It seemed a bit slow and it was starting to get late, so we headed down Boliver Peninsula for shorebirds at Boliver Flats Refuge, run by Houston Audubon Society. By the time we got there dusk was settling fast. We raced down the beach, hoping for Wilson's Plover, one of the few shorebirds we hadn't seen. David spotted one running on the beach, so we went back to the car, to take the ferry across to Galveston. The trip was swift and birdless. We drove through Galveston, crossed the causeway and ended our day at the hotel in Texas City. We felt really satisfied with what we had gotten.

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